There's a common misconception that keeping all your passwords in microscopic handwriting on a tattered piece of paper is safer than keeping them on a computer. That would be the piece of paper with vital information that’s stuck to the edge of your screen, or under the keyboard, or in the top desk drawer. No one would ever think to look there. (Except in every TV crime show). Ideally, any tool for managing your passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information should be:
1. Simple and automatic
2. Compatible with all your devices
(computers, phones, tablets)
3. SecureMany experts swear by password management programs, but I find they fail #1; most people just don't take the time to set them up.
But did you know that you can easily see usernames and passwords you’ve stored in your browser? (For that matter, so can anyone else who has access to your computer).
Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer all allow you to store logins for many websites, and most will also sync your information between devices. I use Chrome on my Mac and Windows computers, iPad, and Android phone, so my passwords and bookmarked websites are always available to me.
- If you’re a gmail/Chrome user, directions are here.
- If you’re a Mac/Safari user, Apple’s built-in iCloud Keychain will sync among all your Apple devices and requires your admin password (the one you use to log in to your computer) for safety.
This is not perfect security in theory, but in practice, it makes it much easier to use many different, long passwords instead of the same one all the time, which is the primary point of vulnerability for most people.
Apple Does it Right (Again)?
I’m very excited about Apple Pay, the feature (only available in new iPhones) that allows you to pay for purchases with your phone. The idea isn’t new; I tested one competitor, Softcard (formerly named Isis) for a few months and found it deeply frustrating.
But it’s looking like Apple may have the magic touch. (Pun intended: one aspect of their elegant solution is using fingerprint reader technology, TouchID, to replace passwords).
Other companies are still fighting to develop rival systems, but they don't have Apple's track record. It will be a while until the dust settles and pay-by-phone becomes commonplace, but the combination of convenience and security is going to be irresistible. For that reason among many others, the new iPhones are worth considering.